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Trump holds rally in Montana. TRANSCRIPT: 10/18/2018, The 11th Hour w Brian Williams.

Guests: Lisa Lerer, Tamara Keith, Dennis Ross, Janine Zacharia

Show: 11TH HOUR WITH BRIAN WILLIAMS Date: October 18, 2018 Guest: Lisa Lerer, Tamara Keith, Dennis Ross, Janine Zacharia

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST: Tonight we have a new talking point for the midterm campaign at a rally in Montana. Donald Trump road tested the phrase "Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs." He also treated his audience to a thorough review of his 2016 victory.

Back at the White House, John Kelly and John Bolton got into a profane shouting match over the issue of immigration. One of the men left and didn`t come back.

The President admits today it certainly looks like Jamal Khashoggi is dead, as U.S. intelligence agencies believe it`s now inconceivable that the crown prince had no connection to his death.

And the powerful words of Steve Schmidt who squarely took on the President earlier today and again sounded the alarm about what we`re seeing as "The 11th Hour" gets underway on a Thursday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York. Day 637 on the Trump administration, President Trump just wrapping up a rally in Missoula, Montana where he, among other things, retold the story of his victory in 2016, went after Hillary Clinton, called Democrats an angry mob, and urged Republicans to get out the vote.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The choice could not be more clear. Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.


WILLIAMS: There you have it, the new talking point. The President also said the upcoming election will come down to a few key issues.


TRUMP: This will be an election of Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense. That`s what it`s going to be. It`s going to be an election of those things.

There are those that say that caravan didn`t just happen, it didn`t just happen. A lot of reasons that caravan, 4,000 people. But I just want to thank the Mexican government because they`re stopping it hopefully before it every gets to Mexico.

As you know, I`m willing to send the military to defend our southern border if necessary. All costs because of the illegal immigration onslaught brought by the Democrats because they refuse to acknowledge or to change the laws. They like it. They also figure everybody coming in is going to vote Democrat. You know. Hey, they`re not so stupid when you think about it, right?


WILLIAMS: There is reason to believe the President may have been watching Fox News last night when Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said this.


NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: I think two words are going to define the night of 2018 election in the next three weeks. One is Kavanaugh. And the other is caravan.


WILLIAMS: The President started his day warning about that caravan of thousands of migrants making their way north from Honduras. Trump said, "If Mexico is unable to stop the caravan," as you heard him say, he`ll call up the U.S. military to close the southern border. That would indeed be quite an operation.

Trump added, "The assault on our country at our southern border including the criminal elements and drugs pouring in is far more important to me as President than capital T, Trade or the USMCA, the newly reworked version of NAFTA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their northern border. All Democrats` fault for weak laws."

"Washington Post" reports today, "Trump`s comments come as he has been urging fellow Republicans to make immigration a central issue in the closing weeks of their midterm election campaigns and blaming Democrats for his inability to pass immigration legislation in the GOP controlled Congress."

Post reporters Ashley Parker and Josh Dossey have some new reporting today on midterm strategy from this White House, and we, "Trump advisors have repeatedly told the President that simply touting his accomplishments will not drive midterm turnout, and he needs to continue to position himself as the counter weight to a liberal Democratic "mob", threatening his achievements, people close to him said."

Tonight we are also tracking reports of a profanity-laced shouting match right there in the halls of the west wing between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Security Advisor John Bolton this afternoon. An administration official told NBC News the disagreement was about immigration.

"The New York Times" reports Chief of Staff John Kelly walked out and left for the day and never came back. Despite speculation from some, "The Wall Street Journal" reports neither man is expected to resign.

After word of this fight first surfaced, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders released a statement that read in part, "While we are passionate about solving the issue of illegal immigration, we are not angry at one another. However, we are furious at the failure of Congressional Democrats to help us address this growing crisis."

In the meantime, the administration truly is pushing this dual-pronged argument of Kavanaugh and the caravan. And while many Americans express their outrage at the President, this week publicly calling a woman "horse face." Earlier today we got a good reality check from correspondent Steve Paterson who talked to Trump supporters in line all day just to see the President in Missoula tonight.


STEVE PATERSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: a lot of women are here somebody pointed out in the crowd. Did the Kavanaugh hearings inspire you or get your enthusiasm up at all, seeing those play out on live T.V.?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And that`s why you see all these women here. That`s what inspired us.

PATERSON: We`re hearing that a lot in this crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. And you know, when that hearing came on, or whatever that was called, the thing is I seen right through the whole thing. And that made me say the next Trump rally, I`m going to be there, I`m going to support him. Because, you know what, together we are strong. And you know what? That`s how it is.

PATERSON: Do you hear the rhetoric here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we`re weak when we are apart, and that is a saying from my mother that has been passed down through our family.

PATERSON: And you think Trump is bringing people together?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is bringing us together. If you don`t see this, this is togetherness right here.


WILLIAMS: one more thing to add to that coverage. During tonight rally Montana the President mention an incident you might remember involving Montana`s now Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte. During the rally Trump joked about an incident back in May 2017, the one where the congressman body-slammed a reporter.


TRUMP: -- and, by the way, never wrestle him. You understand? Never.

Any guy that can do a body slam, he`s my kind of -- he`s my guy.

And we endorsed Greg very early, but I heard he body-slammed a reporter. And he was way up, and he was way up. And I said, "Oh, this was like the day of the election or just before." And I said, "Oh, this is terrible. He`s going to lose the election." Then I said, "Well, wait a minute, I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him." And it did.


WILLIAMS: We should point out the congressman pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault over that incident.

With that, let`s bring in hour lead-off panel on a Thursday night. Never boring around here. Jonathan Lemire, White House reporter for the Associated Press. Lisa Lerer, a National Political Reporter for "The New York Times," and Tamara Keith, White House Correspondent for the NPR.

For the NPR, listen to me, for National Public Radio. Wow, they`re getting to me now.

Hey, Lisa, I`d like to begin with you. I know you are, as we like to say, just back from America, reporting trip to Arkansas.


WILLIAMS: Will this dual track as Newt Gingrich has so ordered of Kavanaugh, caravan get them where they want to be for the midterms?

LERER: Well, look, we know that President Trump supporters love President Trump. The question -- and that has held strong throughout his presidency. The question is whether they will come out to the polls. And that`s what you see the Trump administration trying to do here. They know that immigration is a very motivating force for their voters. They`re trying to make sure that all their people come out.

But what I can also tell you from being out in Arkansas, I was in the little rock suburbs today that Trump is a really strong predictor. We know this from data, too. But anecdotally, every voter I spoke to there, basically their views on the midterms tracked almost exactly what their views on President Trump.

If they didn`t like him, even if they were -- considered themselves independents or moderate Republicans, they were voting for the Democrat. If they were voting in the midterms, if they loved the President, they were voting Republican.

So, we know that views on the President are divisive and it`s really going to come down to a contest of which side can get the most voters on their base out. And do those independents, you know, in some of these wing house districts, those suburban women, do they make a difference?

WILLIAMS: Tamara, over there at the NPR, you must have noticed that immigration has made a last-minute, but big entry into the issues we`ve been discussing. We see where the Republicans want to go with it. A scary stuff about thousands on their way north. How does it cut for Democrats?

TAMARA KEITH, NPR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, for Democrats it is not a top priority issue. There is this pew poll out this week that talked to a lot of voters and found that immigration is the number one most important issue for Republicans. It`s a really salient issue with Republicans.

And for Democrats, of the 18 possible issues listed, illegal immigration was their lowest priority. It was at the very bottom. So President Trump is not talking to Democrats. He is not talking to independents with this issue. He is talking to base Republicans, the kind of people who are going to his rallies, the kind of people who he needs to get out and vote.

I mean, so many of these districts that are toss-up districts are places that he won by a significant margin. Really not that long ago, just in 2016.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan, let me take the risk of trying to summarize and distill the reporting that`s out there about this profanity-laced shouting match in the hallways. Normally sedate, you can hear a pin drop, quiet hallways of the west wing.

Bolton and Kelly squared off over immigration. The President was expressing displeasure about the southern border, that his policies had not stemmed the flow of people over the southern border. That focused attention on the Secretary of Homeland and Security, a long-time acolyte of General Kelly. And so we have this disagreement.

When it first came out, people guessed there would be a resignation from it. It appears that we passed into the evening without that.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That`s right. There are reports right now, people that we`ve talked to does not appear to be resignation imminent. I mean, the future, there`s always speculation about John Kelly`s future in the White House.

WILLIAMS: Once a week.

LEMIRE: At least once a week.

So, this certainly could change anytime. But right now he`s not expected to depart that post. But you are right. It`s a battle about immigration. Secretary Nielsen, Kelly`s ally, became subject of John Bolton`s ire. The two men clashed in a loud profanity-laced fight.

Usually the only profanity we hear in the west wing is when Kanye West comes in to have an Oval Office meeting with the President. So this was certainly an unusual scene there.

But it also goes to highlight how, as you`ve been saying, the immigration has become sort of one of the 11th hour pushes, pardon the pun for the Republican parties here going into the midterms. So this is -- they know this is an issue that electrifies the base. Certainly it was -- in many ways the center piece of President Trump`s 2016 campaign. And he sees a potentially winning ticket there now as well.

And he has made himself very much the story here. Even though he is not on the ballot, he is saying time and time again night after night in these rallies, turnout as if I were, vote for me. But of course, the President is trying to have it both ways. He is certainly kind of eager to take the credit for any Republican victories here.

But, myself and a couple of my colleagues at the Associated Press had an interview with him in the Oval Office this week. I mean, we asked would you share responsibility if you lose? His answer was simply, no.

WILLIAMS: Lisa, I`ve been enjoying your newsletter for "The Times," largely because of your efforts to get out of the set of kind of echo chambers that so many Americans leave in, especially along the coast. And we have a classic example tonight, the mainstream media will kind of shake their heads and tisk-tisk about the President joking about a now congressman assaulting a reporter back in 2017. But as they say in show business, from whence the President came, it killed in the room.

LERER: Look, that`s the kind of thing that his supporters love. We know that about the Trump supporters. They love this kind of macho, he`s gonna not say what`s politically correct kind of thing that the President does. It`s also the thing that infuriates his critics, particularly Democrats.

So I think the thing to remember with all these rallies is, yes, they are energizing for the President`s base, assuming that all those people at the rallies actually go to the polls. But they`re also energizing for the Democrats. That when democratic activist ands voters and strategists tell me when the President goes to their state for one of these rallies, they see an outpouring of donations afterwards, they see more people coming into the campaign offices and offering to volunteer. So it`s really going to be a contest of enthusiasm and where the enthusiasm is stronger.

And it`s also important to remember that we have a really bifurcated midterm map. So the Senate, you know, Republicans feel better about the Senate. There`s a lot of those crucial contest are in red states, red leaning states. The House, the battle ground is really in suburban districts, which is the place where you`ve seen the biggest switch among independents, among suburban women who have really, you know, decided that they don`t like that kind of rhetoric from the President.

So we`re looking at two different kinds of maps and what we could end up -- people expect that we`ll end up with two very different results, but, you know, we`ll have to wait and see until election night.

WILLIAMS: Tamara, in your experience, is there a trigger that would determine those nights -- those events where the President relitigates the 2016 election as he did tonight? Because his advisors certainly want to get him off that mark and supply him with talking points toward the midterms.

KEITH: So, the thing is that Trump rallies are a show and there are --


KEITH: -- features to that show. Reliving 2016 election night victory, reliving the journalist being shocked on the set, watching the results come in. That`s part of the show. It like -- you know, if you went to a Rolling Stones concert and they didn`t play, you can`t get no satisfaction, you would feel like you didn`t go to the right show. And so this is one of those things that people come to the Trump rally to see.

You know, I was talking to Bill Stepien, who is White House Political Director today. And he was saying that some 30 percent of the people at those rallies are not reliable midterm voters and are people who may have voted for the first time in 2016. That`s what they believe the number is.

So President Trump is giving them the show that they`re there for, and then he turns it around and he says that thing of a vote for whoever the candidate is that night is a vote for me. He`s doing that because he`s trying to convince those people who were there for the show to like actually show up on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

WILLIAMS: Jonathan, he is working awfully hard toward the midterms. He`s got two more rallies on this western swing. And yet I saw him across from you in the Oval Office. I read the quote saying, "I don`t own it if it doesn`t go well."

LEMIRE: That`s right. I mean, first of all, the trigger to get him to retell the story of the 2016 election night is a day that ends in why. I mean, he takes no prodding for him to do that.

WILLIAMS: OK. Yes. Fair point.

LEMIRE: But certainly, yes. I mean, he is -- certainly sort of the ultimate Trumpian construct here, where he`ll embrace the win and want nothing to do with the defeat. It`s that branding he did as a businessman and as a celebrity and now as a politician. He is not going to associate himself with this.

We asked him, we brought up the example of President Obama in 2010 when the Democrats were dealt huge defeats in that midterm election. And, you know, he owned it. He said, like, this is in part my fault, and he called it a "shellacking" I believe was the word. And President Trump wanted no part of that comparison. He is out there.

We expect many more rallies next week, the final week before the mid terms, probably out every day. He`s going to be out there, but don`t expect him to say, "Hey, that`s on me" if the Republicans lose the House of Representatives.

WILLIAMS: Can`t thank you enough, guys, for starting off our conversation. Jonathan Lemire of the Associated Press. Lisa Lerer of "The New York Times." And you saw it coming, Tamara Keith of the National Public Radio. Can`t thank you enough. Appreciate it.

Coming up, the President says the torture, the death of a Saudi journalist has caught the imagination of the world.

We asked two people who knew Jamal Khashoggi about exactly what it is we are witnessing here, that and more as we continue. We`re just getting underway on a Thursday night.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe Jamal Khashoggi is dead?

TRUMP: It certainly looks that way to me. It`s very sad. Certainly looks that way. We`re waiting for the results of about three different investigations and we should be able to get to the bottom fairly soon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you considering for possible consequence for Saudi based on those --

TRUMP: Well, we will have to be very severe. I mean, it`s bad, bad stuff. But we`ll see what happens. OK?


WILLIAMS: The President on the disappearance and death of a U.S. resident in the Saudi consulate on a Turkish soil where the local investigators say all the evidence points to Saudi agents as having killed Jamal Khashoggi. Saudi government is still denying involvement.

Trump also spoke to "The New York Times" about the disappearance and left us with a puzzling quote. "This one has caught the imagination of the world, unfortunately. It`s not a positive, not a positive."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just back from the region and roundly criticized for being all smiles for the cameras with the Saudi crown prince. Hurried back to brief the President this morning.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We made clear to them that we take this matter with respect to Mr. Khashoggi very seriously. They made clear to me that they too understand the serious nature of the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi. They also assured me that they would conduct a complete thorough investigation.

I told President Trump this morning that we ought to give them a few more days to complete that so that we, too, have a complete understanding of the facts surrounding that, at which point we can make decisions about how, if the United States should respond.


WILLIAMS: Treasury Secretary Mnuchin also met with the President and Pompeo about that planned trip he had to the conference in Saudi Arabia. Shortly after, he sent this out, "I will not be participating in the future investment initiative summit in Saudi Arabia."|

As the White House tries to manage the escalating outrage across the globe, new reporting is raising more questions about what exactly unfolded inside that Saudi consulate. Tonight NBC News is reporting multiple government officials say U.S. Intel agencies believe it`s inconceivable that the Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, MBS, as he`s known, had no link to Kashoggi`s death.

"The Times" reports that Saudi rulers are considering blaming a top intelligence official for the killing and both "The Times" and "The Washington Post" report that surveillance photos clearly show a member of the crown prince`s traveling entourage was seen entering the Saudi consulate just hours before Khashoggi`s disappearance.

It`s a lot to get to tonight. We have two superb guests to do that. With us tonight, two people who knew Jamal Khashoggi, Ambassador Dennis Ross, the veteran Middle East peace negotiator who has served in senior national security positions in the Reagan, H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And Janine Zacharia is back with us, former Middle East Correspondent and Jerusalem Bureau of Chief for "The Washington Post" who this days is teaching journalism at Stanford University. Good evening and welcome to you both.

Dennis, I used to describe you as the most patient man in the world and the closest thing we had to a standing Middle East negotiator in this country. Having said that, having been classically trained yourself, what do you make of this U.S. reaction? How far is this from normal, and can you guess what U.S. Intel is trying to tell the boss?

AMB. DENNIS ROSS, FMR. SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I guess I`d make two points. The first point is we`re dealing with a situation that the administration and to be fair, almost any administration would feel -- would face a dilemma. The dilemma is on the one hand, Saudi Arabia is important to us for strategic reasons in the region for countering the Iranians economically.

And I would also say what MBS was trying to do within Saudi Arabia was also to discredit and delegitimatize the radicalness ideology that has come from Saudi Arabia in the past and has basically been the fuel for Al Qaeda and ISIS on the one hand. And on the other hand, a behavior that violates every global norm. That you go, and you lure somebody to the consulate, and in this case, you kill them. There has to be a consequence for that, and so here`s the administration trying to wrestle with how do you deal with these larger strategic concerns on the one hand and on the other hand, how do you impose a price for something that is truly unacceptable?

And what we`re seeing is the administration, in a sense, play for time. And use the investigations as a vehicle in which to say, OK, we don`t have to make a decision yet. I think what they`re hoping is that the Saudis will help bail us out by coming out and saying, "You know, we didn`t realize it, but this was, in fact, something that was done by our agents." If they are, in fact, going to finger a senior Saudi intelligence official, that may be part of the way they explain this.

My own guess is that there`s no doubt and this is what the President is probably hearing from the intelligence community, that Mohammed bin Salman who controls so much of the instrumentality`s of Saudi power right now had to know about the operation. It may be that, in fact, this was designed to be a rendition bringing him back to Saudi Arabia or an effort to intimidate him, and it was an operation gone wrong. And he might -- he might honestly say, "Look, this was never supposed to happen in terms of killing him." That may be the one saving grace or at least the one explanation that he can grab onto and that also the administration will.

But there still is going to have to be a price for what`s been done.

WILLIAMS: Janine, first of all, what should we know about your friend Jamal? Secondly, what did you find of note (ph) from the President`s comments today?

JANINE ZACHARIA, FMR. WASHINGTON POST MD EAST CORRESPONDENT: So, I wouldn`t say he was a close friend. He was somebody that if you were someone like me who was tasked with understanding the Middle East and Saudi Arabia that you went to to interpret and explain this very opaque repressive country.

And so the last time I saw him was in March 2011 when I was dispatched to Riyadh to see if the Arab revolutions would reach there. And I met him in his office in a very high floor, in a tower in Saudi Arabia. It was literally at the top of the tower and the top of Saudi society. And so he was somebody who would patiently explain the kingdom to us reporters.

What struck me today was when the President said that this has captured the imaginations of people unfortunately, in other words, he wasn`t expressing any horror at this horrific event that has taken place, this murder, but rather that he has to deal with it, that people are actually paying attention to it. And I think that sends precisely the wrong signal to the world, to dictators. It gives them license to carry out other kinds of deplorable acts against journalists, against people that are just making life hard for them. Anyone who expresses an opinion against them.

So I wish that he would have been clearer about how this is an unacceptable behavior and been clear about what the consequence are. I understand, like Dennis says, that we have important interests with the Saudis.

But just -- I think it was October 3rd in Mississippi, the President said that King Salman would fall in two weeks if the U.S. didn`t prop him up. So who has leverage here? We have leverage over them. The Saudis are going to run out pretty soon of crude oil to export, I think by 2030. We have leverage over them.

They want our corporate help. They want our I.T. They want things. We can very well manage our interests with them as well as to say to them, there`s going to be consequence for this kinds of behavior.

WILLIAMS: Ambassador Ross, I want to run by you a quote from a column posted tonight by someone all three of us know and that`s David Ignatius at "The Washington Post, "A Saudi friend tells me we are at an unanticipated fulcrum of history, a bit like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914 or the failed plot by German officers Adolf Hitler in 1944. Khashoggi`s apparent death may seem unimportant by comparison, but it has begun a chain of events that could alter the Middle East."

Ambassador, true or false?

ROSS: I actually -- I don`t buy it.

WILLIAMS: Why not?

ROSS: I think it`s significant. But -- well, because I tell you, one of the interesting realities, when I`m talking to people in Saudi Arabia right now, one of the things that I`m hearing from them is that there, you know, there is almost a nationalistic reaction, defensive reaction about how can the rest of the world say these things to us, how can they put pressure on us. There is a kind of coalescence of support at least among the public behind Mohammed bin Salman.

He has been using modernization and nationalism as a kind of new legitimatizing device in Saudi Arabia and it seems at this point I think to have some effect. So I`m not saying that we may not see some interesting changes over time. We may see King Salman decide to rein in the crown prince. But at this point I think there is a public level of support in Saudi Arabia, ironically, is basically working for the crown prince, not against him.

WILLIAMS: Janine, do you think he can maintain the way he has looking internally, heroic figure for open movie theaters and allowing of all things women to drive cars?

ZACHARIA: Well, I think the more interesting question at the moment, Brian, is really how we`re going to look at it. Jared Kushner, who has been the de facto Middle East envoy, has cultivated this relationship.

He`s what`s apping with MBS. He`s counting on him I guess for this peace plan that at someday he`ll put forward, I guess. And so the question is will the President face enough pressure to tweet out perhaps that we`re not sticking with MBS.

I mean, it`s hard for me to see that he would abandon him at this stage, but really the question is, again, for corporate America, for the President is, do we want to be complicit in this kind of horrific murder? Do we want to be able to find a way? Yes, to deal with the Saudis on what we have to deal with, but also maybe try and give justice to Jamal by maybe trying to get the others who are in Jail still.

If he`s really a reformer, MBS, why does he continue to detain bloggers? And the woman, herself who actually led the campaign for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

WILLIAMS: Our thanks to our two learned guests on this part of the world. Dennis Ross and Janine Zacharia. I appreciate it very much. We`ll have this discussion again. I`m quite sure.

Coming up, domestic politics, 19 days to go until the mid terms. We`re tracking some critical suburban House seats that may flip from red to blue. Steve Kornacki at the big board with those after this.


WILLIAMS: President Trump tonight in Montana said Democrats don`t have a viable message with little more than two weeks to go before the midterms. Back at the big board for us tonight, who else? Our National Political correspondent Steve Kornacki with how the Democratic message may be playing out in a couple select Republican House districts. Hey, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, NBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brian, that`s right. We talked about how the map has changed in some ways in the Republicans` favor as a result potentially of a Kavanaugh bounce for them.

I want to talk about the flip side of that, though, the places where maybe there`s a Kavanaugh effect helping Democrats a little bit. Here`s what I`m talking about. What you see here, these yellow splotches, there are 25 of them on this map across the country. 25 districts that Republicans now hold in Congress but that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

They didn`t like Trump. They reelected a Republican and Democrats think that`s their first line of attack. A lot of these districts are in the suburbs. And we have gotten some fresh polling evidence just in the last couple of days showing that democrats. I`ll put it up on the screen.

Now I`ll show you, you`ll see something in common here. Start in New Jersey 7th district. One of those yellow blotches I just show you, here`s the zoomed in. Suburbs of New Jersey, Republican incumbent trailing by six points in this district.

Take a look down now, this is just outside Philadelphia. Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Republican incumbent. Trailing by seven points to a Democratic challenger. Take a look at Virginia`s 10th, right outside Washington, D.C., suburbs, Republican incumbent. Down seven.

Take a trip out here to Colorado 6th district. Denver suburbs, Republican incumbent, under 40 percent, sitting at 38 percent. How about the Kansas City suburbs on the Kansas side? Johnson County, Republican incumbent, nine points down, under 40 percent.

You start to add that together and, again, what you see is this list of 25. It does not take long, Brian, just looking at the lay of the land right now, that type of district. It doesn`t take long to look at this and see at least a dozen very rosy prospects for Democrats to pick off.

Every one of these they win would be a pickup. And to get that 23 number pretty quickly in the range of 10 to 12 seats and with other opportunities besides that, to cut it even further. So, for Democrats, this first line of attack is looking very promising for them.

That`s what the polling tells us. The question is, when you get outside of these districts, more into Trump-friendly areas, can they continue to make inroads there? That`s the thing that`s sort of an open question after the last couple weeks, Brian.

WILLIAMS: And I`ll remind our viewers there are 445 congressional districts. We have so much work to do on election night. Steve Kornacki at the big board for all of us. No one we`d rather have. Thank you so much.

Coming up for us, the President makes a rare observation about our natural world. We`re back with that after this.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We endorsed Greg very early, but I had heard that he body-slammed a reporter. I said, oh, this is terrible. He`s going to lose the election. Then I said, well, wait a minute. I know Montana pretty well. I think it might help him, and it did.


WILLIAMS: President Trump back on the campaign trail ahead of the mid terms. That brings us to Eugene Robinson who is here with us in our New York studios, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Washington Post and a friend of this and other broadcasts here during the day.

Eugene, what are we to make? Remember the backdrop is a U.S. resident --


WILLIAMS: Feared dead inside the Saudi consulate and that.

ROBINSON: Very, very bad week. I mean, it`s never a good time to cheer violence against journalists. This is an awful time to do that. And I guess I should be surprised and I don`t know that I`m surprised, but I`m appalled, I`m appalled.

WILLIAMS: I should read the headline from two of your colleagues, Robert Costa is the first by line on this. Conservatives mount a whisper campaign smearing Khashoggi in defense of Trump. And if you`re on social media, you started to see this, just a wisp people would retweet some item saying Khashoggi was tied to the Muslim brotherhood. He`s a full on terrorist. He`s a friend of the terrorists.

Remember, Khashoggi`s last item for you newspaper was about press freedoms in the Arab world.

ROBINSON: Exactly. Reading that piece was very emotional, very emotional for a lot of us at the post. I did not know Jamal Khashoggi. Many people at the post obviously did. People in my corner of the room did. Senator is a good friend of mine.

And so it`s been a tough time knowing now more about what happened, how horrific it was, how awful it was. And, again, I knew this was going to come. You knew that, that part of the excuse making was going to be, well, he was a bad guy anyhow, so he deserved it.

And we will hear more of it. It won`t be said out loud prominently, by it will be whispered. It will be in the right wing sort of radio shows and blogs.

WILLIAMS: Let`s be on the whisper now. And we`re seeing it picked up. Your column, the Trump Administration`s see-no-evil indulgence of Saudi Arabia. Allow me to quote. "I have to wonder if Mohammed, MBS, would not have ordered the hit job. And it is utterly implausible that Khashoggi was accosted without the crown prince`s go ahead unless he had confidence that the Trump administration would let him get away with it.

As usual, you go right to the nub of so many conversations about this.

ROBINSON: And again, why would MBS think that Trump administration would object? He has waged a brutal war in Yemen in which many, many thousands of civilians have been killed. He`s been using U.S. weapons in this campaign. He kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon for a time and held him for a time.

He blockaded Qatar, another U.S. ally where we have thousands of troops, in an attempt to pressure that government. He`s been allowed to get away with all these things. On the plus side, he allows women to drive, on the minus side he has imprisoned the woman who was the lead activist arguing that women should be able to drive.

But there has been not a whisper of complaint. In fact, there`s been nothing but praise from the Trump administration. Jared Kushner, as we all know, has been in touch with him. And this is their strategy going all-in on Saudi Arabia. So he figures, why would he even -- why would it cross his mind that there would be objections from Washington?

WILLIAMS: Are you up for a brief change of pace?

ROBINSON: Absolutely.

WILLIAMS: I want to show you something that happened in Montana tonight.


WILLIAMS: Donald Trump talking about what it`s like in Montana and the natural world he encountered there.


TRUMP: By the way, this is the most beautiful sky. Well, big sky -- I guess there`s a reason for everything, right? No, I got out and I`ve been looking. I`ve been here many times. I got out and I`m looking. I said, that really is big sky. That`s beautiful. Not only big, it`s certainly beautiful sky. Some day one of you will explain exactly why, but that is a beautiful, beautiful big sky.


WILLIAMS: I`m trying to look at your face.

ROBINSON: Big sky, big sky. You know what I was thinking of? You remember what Mitt Romney said, with what the Michigan, it`s great to be here, all the trees are exactly the right height.

WILLIAMS: And Richard Nixon looking at the great wall, actually (ph) have said that`s a great wall.

ROBINSON: That`s a great wall. Well, yes, yes. In big sky country, indeed, the sky is big.

WILLIAMS: The sky is big. And he expects someone to explain it to him.

ROBINSON: Exactly, some day, some day they`ll figure it out. After they figure out this global warming.

WILLIAMS: Maybe Ted Turner who is, I think other than the government, the largest single landowner in Montana where the license plates say, big sky country for good reason.

Our good friend Eugene Robinson, thank you, friend, for being here tonight.

Coming up, let`s get an update on the aftermath of Hurricane Michael and some of the new problems that have emerged for the folks on the ground there.


WILLIAMS: Last week, of course, Hurricane Michael made landfall, but the damage it did to the Florida coast line is now starting to sink in. NBC News reports there are at least 34 confirmed deaths so far. There are more than a thousand people all across the southeast officially still considered missing.

But importantly, public officials continue to caution, some of those feared missing may be with family or friends and perhaps simply unable to tell the next of kin, their friends, their family that they made it and they are safe.

Meanwhile, those making their way back home or what was once home are now left with this loss.


DAVID FORD, RESIDENT, MEXICO BEACH, FLORIDA: The drive down here was almost -- glad to see my place. Gone. All these beautiful homes, all the businesses.


WILLIAMS: And, of course, as you can sense, as you can see the suffering continues. As of tonight, there are still more than 100,000 homes across the southeast without power. Look at this satellite imagery from NASA. It demonstrates the staggering loss of light in just one town in Florida.

Before and after Michael. So, on the left, bright lights of a normal night before Michael. On the right, the spotty signs of life and light in Panama City, Florida. Then, of course, when the sun comes out each day, the extent of the damage can be more striking.

This is Mexico Beach in Florida. Again, before Michael there on the left. After the storm, what`s left of it, on the right. It is stunning. As is often the case, when desperation is mixed in with evacuation and a loss of power, a loss of security, looting has become an issue.

One Florida county sheriff tells the Associated Press about ten looters have been arrested each night since the storm hit. In response, and because police departments are already stressed, some citizens have formed their own nighttime patrols of their own neighborhoods, for better or worse.

Florida`s Tyndall Air Force Base also still assessing the damage. They got hit hard. While most of the F-22 stealth fighter jets stationed there, were flown out of the way before Michael. There are reports that at least 17 of them were under going maintenance at the time the storm hit and so they were left behind. Those jets may have all been damaged. They go for about $330 million each. Our update on the storm`s path.

Coming up, Steve Schmidt had something to say about President Trump on this network earlier today. He said it, and then some. We`ll show you those moments when we come back.


WILLIAMS: Last thing before we go here tonight comes from our on-air contributor Steve Schmidt, a veteran of Republican Politics. He worked for John McCain and Bush 43 among others. Along with Rosie O`Donnell this afternoon, he was a guest on Nicolle Wallace`s broadcast on this network where he spoke emotionally about our current President.


STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: He has degraded the culture more impactfully, more quickly than any person in the history of this country.


SCHMIDT: Bar none. And you think about sitting in the Oval Office, office that Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt would meet in planning the fall of Nazism and victory for World War II or Barack Obama meditating before the raid on bin Laden or Ronald Reagan or John Kennedy during the missile crisis.

And you think about these people sitting around plotting how to insult Stormy Daniels, it may be the single greatest refutation to theory of evolution in the history of world.

But what we`re seeing here is something new. Particularly from a President. He uses lying at mass rallies to scapegoat minority populations. He alleges conspiracies. He creates a sense of mass victimization and then positions himself as the avenger on behalf of the victims, defending them from the invading hoard of migrants coming from the south, approaching the border.

This is all B.S. of the first order. When you see Newt Gingrich up there, one of the most singularly pernicious forces in the history of American politics, a man who more than any other has wrecked the collegiality, the comedy who began and begat this era of partisan warfare, when you see his smug smirk talking about caravan and Kavanaugh, caravan and Kavanaugh, the caravan, these are vulnerable people fleeing some of the most violence- ravaged placed on earth.

And why do they walk for 2000 miles? Because of the power of an idea. That idea is this place.

O`DONNELL: This country.

SCHMIDT: America.


SCHMIDT: A place where people are free, and they are safe. And the idea that when a mother, through suffering, through abuse, through risk, and sometimes death all around them, when they reach the border and they see a uniform with an American flag and they are no longer safe, but that baby is ripped away and put into an internment camp, this is a moral outrage that hearkens to the worst excesses in the history of the country, to the separation of families at the slave auction blocks, to the separation of native American families. It is a moral --


WILLIAMS: The unambiguous Steve Schmidt rounding out this hour of our coverage tonight, and that is our broadcast for a Thursday evening.

Thank you so very much for being here with us. Goodnight from NBC News headquarters here in New York.


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